I love my rice cooker. It cooks quickly and expertly and holds my rice, warm and ready to eat, for days. At home, we almost always have a pot ready on the counter ready to serve with dinner or to fortify a lunchtime salad. The rice is excellent, and the cooking process rivals toast-making in its simplicity. After my wife Elisabeth and I got ours—a Zojirushi NS-LAC05—nearly a decade ago, I have never seen the point of any other method. In fact, if it ever dies, I would be 100 percent happy to replace it with the exact same model.
And yet … with the release of Zojirushi’s new, top-of-the line Pressure Induction Heating Rice Cooker & Warmer, aka the NP-NWC10—quite a mouthful either way—I was incredibly curious. It boasts two features that make cookery nerds’ hair stand on end with excitement: induction heat and pressure cooking. In short, induction is fast and precise, and pressure’s higher heat is purported to more fully and evenly cook each grain.
The new one operates almost identically to the model I own. Using the cup it comes with, you measure out the amount of rice you want into the pot, rinse the grains, then add water up to the etched line on the sidewall of the pot that corresponds with the number of cups of rice you’re cooking. Select the setting you want, hit the Cooking button, and clap along as it plays a couple bars of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
Here’s where the difference kicks in. Instead of plateauing at 212 degrees Fahrenheit with no pressure, white rice is cooked at 2.1 psi and 219 degrees. Brown rice gets a little more pressure (2.8 psi) and reaches 221 degrees.
I also had a big realization here: the first test would be the deal breaker. It would either taste better or it wouldn’t be worth it, especially considering the Zojirushi will set you back handily; The suggested retail price for the 5.5-cup model I tested is $585, and the 10-cup NP-NWC-18 is $620, though both can be found slightly cheaper in stores.
For my test, I ordered a 15-pound bag of Tamanishiki Super Premium Short Grain Rice, the same rice used by Zojirushi for its white-rice testing in the United States. I put equal amounts of rice in my old and the new machines, rinsed, added water, and hit Cooking. About 50 minutes later, I fluffed the rice, grabbed some spoons and called Elisabeth. We each gave the other blind tests from each cooker, formed an opinion, and kept it to ourselves until we’d both tried each one. The difference was clear. While our old machine produced rice that would be more than acceptable at a restaurant, the induction pressure model created more distinct grains—”less mushy” was our shared assessment. It was a clear step forward, and there were even “softer” and “harder” settings for further tinkering.
Grace Under Pressure
One argument that now crops up when it comes to all rice cookers is, Why not just cook your rice in a pressure cooker? It’s a great question. In practice, I am a devout proponent of the division of labor, letting each machine do its thing. Plus, on a practical side, there’s so much stuff you can cook in the pressure cooker that you want to eat with rice that, at the least, you’d want two separate devices.
The head-to-head test punched a few holes in my argument. Using my super-premium rice, I cooked fresh batch in my Instant Pot using Melissa Clark’s guidelines from her cookbook Dinner in an Instant. It came out quite well on my first go, with clearly individual grains and just a hint of mushiness, something that might be able to be dialed out with more testing. In the Zojirushi, the grains were just a bit more distinct, but the difference was surprisingly narrow considering that you can buy an excellent electric pressure cooker for about $100 and the Zojirushi costs more than five times that amount. Then again, pressure-cooking rice often is a bit fussier and doesn’t save you much time.
However, the rice cooker’s “Keep warm” function is notably better. I left both finished batches of rice in their respective machines overnight. In the morning, the Zojirushi’s batch was near indistinguishable from just cooked, while the Instant Pot’s had a half-inch thick crust of inedible rice crud on the bottom of the pot. I realize that the quality of the rice degrades over time even in a great rice cooker, but as someone who routinely maxes out my old Zojirushi’s timer at 99 hours so I can almost always have a few scoops of warm rice on hand, this is huge. On a similar note, many people love using the timer function to make just-cooked rice appear at dinnertime.
Separately, I tried the Zojirushi’s brown rice setting and the short of it is that it’s more of a personal taste thing. On my old cooker, I prefer using the quick-cooking setting which gives the rice shorter soaking and cooking times, and, at least with the brand of brown rice I normally use at home, it makes for plump grains with a pleasing tautness to the exterior. I also made basmati rice—which I cooked on the “Jasmine” setting, as there is no basmati setting—and holy cow, it was stunning.
There are plenty of other things you can do with the new Zojirushi, but they all take a backseat to … you know, cooking rice. For what it’s worth, I made simple congee by following a Zojirushi recipe, and it came out well enough that I still get cravings for it. Late one evening, I even tried the steel-cut oats setting so I could wake up to pre-made oatmeal. It came out goopier that when I make it à la minute on my stove in the morning, but it’s always nice to wake up to a zero-effort breakfast.
I’ve only got a few quibbles with the NP-NWC10, most notably, its giant black electric cord. My older, less-powerful Zojirushi model has a retractible cord, so you can park it on the countertop and pull out as much as you need, vacuum-cleaner style, and minimize countertop clutter. With a much thicker cord, the new induction/pressure model doesn’t have that retracting feature; the best you can do is wrap a sturdy twist-tie around what you’re not using. This is a bit of an unfair dig, considering I’m comparing it against other Zojirushi models, and there are plenty of other appliances with their big, ugly cords flopping about willy-nilly. But I couldn’t help but wish the company could have figured something out, even if that made for a slightly larger machine. I’d also love it if some of the parts were dishwasher safe.
Plus with that suggested $585 price tag, this thing is hella expensive. I wouldn’t even consider swapping out my existing model until it dies. Even then, I’d doubt it. I still feel like the one I’m already using is close enough to perfect.
One of my favorite things about it is how clear it is that this machine was made by people who do a lot of cooking. I know that sounds funny when you’re talking about kitchen appliances, but I often have the feeling that many of the items that come across my countertops for review were thought of by an engineer who has never cooked in their life.
This one is a clear step ahead, so if you have the money to blow, knock yourself out. Most importantly, just get a rice cooker. Any one, really—whether it’s like the model I still own, or even one of the older ones that have just one light-switch style on/off control. Measure out the rice, give it a rinse, press the button, and clap along to “Twinkle, Twinkle.”